Marketers frequently talk about branding, but what is it exactly? According to Seth Godin (an author, business
executive and speaker who’s in the Direct Marketing Hall of Fame), a brand is “the set of expectations, memories,
stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service
Branding isn’t just for companies with something to sell — it can help reinforce a nonprofit’s mission, communicate
its values and attract donors and supporters. Nonprofits should pay attention to their branding and implement
practices that will help capture the attention of prospects and send important messages about the organization.
These are the three hallmarks of branding2:
||Strategy: Before you create your visual identity and messaging, keep in mind the overall
plan for what the organization does and why it matters; this will guide you in
all your branding efforts
||Visual Identity: This includes the logo, graphics, colors and fonts used by an
||Messaging: A nonprofit’s name, tagline, mission statement and “elevator pitch”
A good brand instantly conveys the character and intent of a nonprofit. Strong branding enhances the good
reputation of an organization and makes donors feel confident that they are donating to a worthy cause and to an
organization with a clear vision.
Developing a Strong Brand
Start with the strategy of your nonprofit, which should be clear, concise and focused. Develop your brand to align
with your organization’s values rather than the other way around. Building your visual identity and crafting the
words that convey the mission of your organization are two key steps to take when developing a brand.3
Creating a Visual Identity
A visual identity includes the following elements:
|Logo: Your nonprofit’s logo should be simple, eye-catching and versatile. Visualize your
logo on business cards, a website and letterhead, keeping in mind it will be used
frequently for years to come. Don’t try to cram too much information or too many
design elements into a logo.
If you don’t have a logo already, or it
needs updating, have a professional graphic designer create it. While staff or
volunteers may be well-intentioned, a professional designer is worth the investment
in the long run.
|Typography: Is your nonprofit staid and serious, or do you want to convey a sense of fun
and whimsy? Fonts go a long way toward conveying these messages. Your logo
should feature a simple font that’s easy to read, and your other
communications should use similar fonts that work well with the
|Colors: Find and use colors that work with your logo. A color palette of one to three
complementary colors should be enough for a consistent and recognizable brand.
|Graphics and Photos: Your branding guidelines can require or prohibit certain types of
visuals and convey other rules. For instance, you might designate a
precise amount of whitespace around images, forbid the use of stock
photos, incorporate blocks of color or use ampersands (&)
instead of the word “and.” These details set you apart to help
create a unique brand.
Written and Verbal Messaging
Your organization’s brand is more than just its visual identity. Branding includes verbal messaging as well. Here
are some key elements of strong written and oral messaging:
|Organization Name: Often the mission of the nonprofit is conveyed right in the name. For
instance, the names “American Cancer Society” and “Save the Children”
tell you exactly what their missions involve.
necessary for an organization to change its name if its mission has
evolved significantly, or if the old name has become tarnished. For
example, the Lance Armstrong Foundation changed its name to LIVESTRONG
after Lance Armstrong’s reputation suffered due to his illegal use of
|Tagline: Many nonprofits also have a tagline, often used in conjunction with the
organization’s logo. For example, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital uses the
tagline “Finding Cures. Saving Children.” This brief line effectively conveys
The New York City–based organization PAWS NY employs a
logo featuring a heart, a cat and a dog, and its tagline is “Helping People by
Helping Pets.” With this tagline, donors understand that this nonprofit’s
mission is twofold. A good tagline succinctly reinforces an organization’s
mission4 in a way that’s easy to understand and memorable.
|Mission Statement: A mission statement is one sentence that sums up a nonprofit’s
mission. Nonprofit mission statements should be unique and memorable.
The sentence itself must be clear and concise, with no jargon.
Mission statements should include several elements: an organization’s cause (who or what it
serves), its actions (what the organization does) and its impact (the
change that will happen as a result of the organization’s
work.5 This list of 50 mission statements selected from the top
100 nonprofits list contains strong
examples from some of the most successful nonprofits in the country.
|Elevator Pitch: An “elevator pitch” is a verbal statement that could be delivered during
the length of a brief elevator ride — it’s simply a few sentences that
make the listener want to learn more. Although an elevator pitch is
spoken, it’s helpful to write it down.
You don’t have to
memorize it word for word, but you should have some version of an
elevator pitch handy. In fact, everyone involved in the organization,
including leadership, staff and board, should have an elevator pitch
ready for the next time someone asks, “What does your organization do?”
When it comes to your organization’s brand, it’s important to establish clear guidelines and to communicate these
guidelines clearly to staff and board members. Brand guidelines include guides to both the visual and
written/verbal elements of the nonprofit’s brand.
Visual brand guidelines include directives about how and where to use the organization’s logo and other assets. For
example, you might specify that logo colors cannot be changed and that sub-brands can or cannot be added to the
logo (if your organization has more than one location or many programs). You can specify which colors and fonts can
and can’t be used, and include other directives about icons and graphics.
Verbal guidelines (sometimes referred to as style guides or voice guidelines)also help shape an organization’s
brand. Perhaps you want to be perceived as friendly and approachable, and you want your staff to always refer to
your organization using “we” rather than “it” or “the organization.” Maybe you want everyone to avoid certain
phrases, such as using the term “survivor” rather than “victim”. You might want to discourage people from using
phrases that you feel are cliché in your sector (such as “state-of-the-art”). Lay out all these specifics in your
Employing Your Organization’s Brand
How, when and where should you use your organization’s brand? Use the brand wherever and whenever you’re
communicating about your organization: on its website, in written materials, on the website and in social media
posts. In addition, your stationery, letterhead, business cards and annual reports should all be consistent with
Widely Recognized Nonprofit Brands
Amnesty International, Habitat for Humanity, World Wildlife Fund, American Cancer Society and the American Red
Cross are among the most widely recognized organizations in the nonprofit world.6 These organizations
have strong branding that you can call to mind immediately. Their messages are clear and consistent, and their
branding reinforces their visions. Take a look at these organizations and their branding elements to see how they
create instantly recognizable and memorable brands.
What Branding Means to Donors
Branding assures donors that your organization behaves consistently. A strong brand fosters trust in an
organization and tells donors that you’re staying true to your mission and remaining focused. Consistent branding
can help build community and excitement about a nonprofit7. Pay attention to your branding, and your
donors will pay attention to your organization.